This article was originally publish on May 7th, 2006 at americanchronicle.com
My youngest son has been having problems in school lately. His teacher has been calling me at work to let me know about it. It seems he hasn?t been doing his homework. This isn?t a new problem. In fact, we?ve been dealing with it all year.
Now, I?ve never been a big fan of homework, especially at the elementary school level. When I was that age, I don?t recall ever getting any homework. We did all our learning and work during the school hours. After school, in the evenings, I?d go over to one of my friend?s or they?d come over to my house. When the weather permitted we?d run around outside. In the winter on many days we?d play in the snow. When it was nasty outside we?d stay in and watch TV, play board games, or play with our toy cars, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, or some other such thing. Back then, kids were allowed to be kids. We were supposed to have fun. I sometimes wonder if the same is true today.
But, enough nostalgia. I?ve accepted the pressures of this ever quickening modern world, even those increased pressures we?ve put on our children. Every night earlier this school year I would ask my son if he?d done his homework and he?d always tell me he?d finished it at school during his study period or that he didn't have any. I was happy to hear this as I?ve always been of the opinion schoolwork should be done at school where the teacher is there to help.
One day I got a call from his teacher. It seems my son hadn?t been doing his homework. He had been telling his teacher he?d forgotten it at home. Not only that, but he?d copped an attitude in school. He?d become distant and uncaring and just wasn?t trying any longer. This would not do.
Upon further investigation we discovered all this had started since he?d been hanging around this other kid who had a rather unsavory reputation. I don?t like to judge people, especially children, but my wife had warned me about this kid. I had told her we couldn?t pick our son?s friends, but she had insisted she had a bad feeling about this kid. Now our son had a bad attitude at school, wouldn?t do his necessary homework and had taken up telling lies. It was especially disconcerting he?d been lying to us. Drastic action needed to be taken. I grounded him for a month and forbade him from seeing his friend, all with my wife?s approval.
Things improved tremendously after that. My son?s attitude changed. I kept in touch with his teacher and he was keeping up with his homework. The school actually did their work and found out he did much better in small groups and studying in school with help. For a time, everything was rosy. Then, a couple of months after the grounding, his teacher called me to tell me he once again was not doing his work. I threatened him with another grounding and he straightened up, for a while at least.
Apparently, much like certain government officials, my son is someone who needs constant monitoring or he slips into old habits. Recently, his teacher called me to once again complain that he hasn?t been doing his work. My wife suggested that I take away his Game boy, which is something he loves dearly. When he got home that evening I confronted him and told him to hand over his Game boy and that he could no longer play any video games. This upset him greatly and sent him crying to his room. His older sister stepped up to the plate for him and told me she felt I was being too harsh. She told me her brother had it tough at school and I should have given him a warning before taking away his Game boy. Well, I?m not an unreasonable man and I listen to my kids, so I considered what my daughter had said. Besides, I?m an old softy. I hate seeing my kids so upset.
Later, when things had settled down, I questioned my son about what was going on in school. He told me that everyone at school hated him. I reminded him of all the friends I knew he had at school and he acknowledged them. I knew that some of his friends have a hot and cold relationship with him, as is typical of boys his age. He insisted all the kids at school teased him. Questioning him further, I found that there was one boy in particular who had told him his whole family was retarded. I guess my son had taken this comment to heart and it had affected him profoundly. He had taken one boy?s animosity and turned it into the entire class hating him, having no friends at school, and he was going to cop an attitude and not do his work. I explained to him that kids not liking him was no reason not to do his homework, let him have his Game boy back, and warned him that if his teacher called me again I would take the Game boy away. Once again, things have been going along well now, but I can only guess for how long. Hopefully, it will last at least to the end of the school year. Stay tuned.
It was later in the evening when I was approached again. My daughter had been helping her brother with his homework. Once it was completed they both came up to me and asked me if my son could start playing with the friend I early described as unsavory. Now we got to the meat of the matter. Had I been conned? Was this just a set up to see if I would allow this kid to once again play with my son? Or, did my kids simply see an opportunity and now they were trying to grab it? I think the latter. I also explained to them that it was up to their mom, who really had the misgivings about the boy and whose judgment in such matters I defer to. They never asked her. Still, I know I can?t keep my son from seeing his friend forever and that if he really wants to he will, even if it means sneaking around to do it. Perhaps I don?t have to teach him dishonesty after all. Perhaps the world will do that for me. This is somewhat worrisome as we are ordinary middle class people, not the privileged elite. I?m afraid dishonesty will only get him into trouble, not make him a success. But, I suppose he will learn what he needs to learn.